By SEGUN O’LAW
“You’re a thief. You lived a lie. Sitting in an office with plaques and awards and Financial Times articles on the walls and certificates of academic excellence – all lies”, Judge Michael Perl QC scoffed at Tony Billings for theft of £430,000 from his boss to pay for extravagant gifts and foreign holidays for a woman he was obsessed with. Being a married fantasist, he lived up to convince the woman of a wealthy life, so he could win her over. He had shown her generosity to the tune of over £357,000 euros –his crime all for her! Before his verdict, the judge raised remarkably dreadful comments that would keep potential criminals uninterested. Deflating statement spent by the judge on the acclaimed successful accountant was worthy of five feature articles each on all national dailies.
To persons with dignity, accusation of theft attracts tears, shame and keeping indoors until the mess steams down. Nigerian public officials pride themselves on the volume of wealth amassed, anchored on their scam feats. We’ve got countless stocks of outrageous criminals. We have celebrated politicians who attend the court to hear their cases in richly decorated silks designed only for court occasions and a bunch of the poverty-stricken village women in paid uniformed Ankara, dancing the steps to bata beats. We have also gotten those who attend their court cases in low profile, feigning innocent but with better facilitated back-door tantalizer treatments for the judges and such cases would inevitably end up as slashing the allegedly stolen amount from N70bn to only less than N10bn. The case goes as; though he is a thief, but after investigations, it is not as was capitalized at the beginning. In their shameful form, those with some conscience will for the sake of their children and name, save their faces from embarrassment at the court. They avoid direct eye contact with anyone for possible recognition or humiliation.
Top shot criminals reportedly compete by weighing their wicked deeds with each other. Have you heard statements like, “What have you stolen yet, that you raise your shoulder high? If you must steal, steal big and know what you are being embarrassed for”, I should remind you of the famous statement credited to Abacha’s wife while the children’s laundered monies were being repatriated from Swiss bank, that it does not matter how much was retrieved from the Abachas’, the family would never be ‘as poor as Dangote’. It is as unimpeachable as saying, “When comparing rich individuals; it will be an insult to compare me with a pauper like Dangote!”
Former President Obasanjo helped matters by creating criminals advertisement commission. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission helps publicize wealthy criminals in Nigeria. Small thieves whose loots are rated ‘grassroots’ settle their scores in ordinary courts and we do not make hoopla. It miffs some politicians that their names have not yet been listed by the EFCC. It is a sign that they are not there yet. If the EFCC has ignored you, you are only a poor politician, but here’s where to go; steal large enough, get attracted by the EFCC, the commission helps you with media hype, pay the commission some fee and get out with a clean receipt. You are cleared’ and now a popular figure. Whoever is accused by the anti-graft agency in Nigeria and ends up in prison is only a small thief. Big thieves make names from it.
The ongoing trail on the pension scam put at N32.8 billion is another exceptional case – if the suspects have not built Texas with all their loots. Out of N32.8 Billion, they can afford to buy a Nigerian judge over, and buy justice forever! Little wonder lawyers with foresight rushed to be defense counsels to these criminals; it is a multi-million/billions Naira job and that is the business in vogue for the smart lawyers.
But for once, let’s ponder, Nigerian judicial system lost our trust, and we can remember the cases of rogue bankers, the same way we made hoopla in the media. Remember the Cecilia Ibru’s, the Akintola’s and the Ololo’s? Remember the hypes about the Bankole’s, the Elumelu’s, the PTDF noise between Atiku and Obasanjo and the silence after all? How many ended up in jail? It only takes one to be a monumental thief instead of a small one, and he will be free. Remember Ibori’s case, freed in Nigeria, and Southwark Crown court to the rescue. He did not play a small game; he did it ‘big’ to be free with his loot in Nigeria, and nothing was found against him.
Considering the amount involved in the pension fund fraud, no amount of pictures and comments on SaharaReporters.com, nairaland.com, Naijapals.com, Facbook.com or other social media sites or television broadcasts will convince me of true justice in the end as far as it is on the table of the Nigerian judges – na today?
Nigerian Judges/justices do not have such strength to call a crook by his true name like Michael Perl QC did in the example cited above. The only entertainment coming out of contemporary cases in Nigeria is the shame that causes them to cover their faces, and their children’s friends come asking; “Sam, is it true your mummy stole money?”
Humiliations, to those who feel ashamed anyways, have caused conscientious family members to change their surnames. Peculiar names that have lost respect of any kind to me include (not in order) Obasanjo, Atiku, Elumelu, Babangida, Ololo, Bankole, Daniel, Abacha, Mark, Aondoaka, Ibori, to register but few. Marrying into such families will cause an innocent person into destruction, because when their time is ready to be drowned in a true justice system, one will not be spared, being innocent. Wise children from these backgrounds will easily be arranging to change their surnames and to expunge any traces to their vile backgrounds.
As it appears now, the greatest misfortune to have befallen Nigeria is the compromised judiciary. How good would it sound, if this disgrace could be topped up with some jail sentences? Some duplicitous officers syphoned money meant for hundreds, and sometimes millions of people only for the public to be told that the court has no jurisdiction or that the case is dismissed for lack of evidence. What evidence could be better than money disappearing from the custody of the custodian, and the custodian lives larger than his income without other businesses capable of fetching him the largesse he shows off? No court seems to have jurisdiction to try top criminals anymore in Nigeria, and it baffles that they only open the door for their accomplices to ‘play on’.
It only reminds of jungle justice, where all we need is to be established by ourselves that a person actually stole. Nigerians are tired of a gaming judicial pitch. All we need is to see Sam’s mother go to jail since she actually covered her face in acknowledgment that she stole money meant for other people. The Economic and financial crimes commission should be effective at their tasks this time. The EFCC should learn from their past mistakes, if any as accused by courts of not properly investigating matters or providing substantial evidences before proceeding to court. While being remanded, hours available between now and the next argument for a bail application are enough to gather enough facts. The EFCC should convince us for once that the commission is actually willing to fight crime by all means possible. We can’t wait to see Sam’s mother and other useless fathers spoiling our country sentenced to prison.